“I always lamented that one never gets to hear the other side of the story. The dialogue is always so militaristic. There is no connection or dialogue between two human beings.”
This is how Mira Nair’s journey of filming Mohsin Hamid’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ started.
“I have always felt a sense of incredible familiarity with Lahore because my father was a Lahori. And every time I come here I feel I am at home,” she said. This is what immediately drew her towards ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ and she made an offer to Hamid that very second “without even asking for a discount” as she puts it. “I immediately wanted to make a film about this contemporary Pakistan.”
It took Mohsin Hamid approximately seven years to finish writing the novel. And it took Nair and her team three years and seven drafts to adapt it into a screenplay.
In the words of Hamid, the fable he wrote was a quiet one. Something he had never thought would become so politically important. “When I started writing it, 9/11 hadn’t happened. I showed it to my agent and he wasn’t unimpressed. And then 9/11 happened, my agent called me up one day and asked me about that story I once wrote about this young man called Changez.”
Hamid’s vision and Nair’s vision, both driven towards the portrayal of social realities rather than putting out a political fact brought the two of them to finally conceive the adaptation of ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ into a film.
During her talk at the Lahore Literary Festival 2014 (LLF), Nair talked about many things Lahore, which compelled her towards the completion of this project despite financing falling apart a number of times.
“I wanted very much to get into the family life, to see how the relationships worked, the ups and downs. How parents did not want to send their sons off to America and how some parents did not approve of this pursuit of money,” she told the audience. To convey these ideas and ideals the way she wanted to convey them, she wanted to choose just the right actors. She went through hundreds of casting sessions, in India, Pakistan, America and Britain. It was in London she found Riz Ahmad, who plays the lead character of Changez. “The role of Changez was the tightrope. I wanted to show who Changez was. And that was the litmus test. Riz Ahmad was exactly the kind of actor I wanted. He understood what it felt like to even slightly insult one’s father in the local context and then later feel the sharam. He understood these concepts of sharam and izzatso well. And at the same time, he did not feel any sense of inferiority in being in bed with Kate Hudson.”
Nair also talked about her love for contemporary Pakistani music, which she vowed to incorporate into the film. Pakistani music and Faiz’s poetry were the other two factors, she says that led her to make this film. And of course, “the women of Lahore” who she feels are so spirited. That precisely is the reason she specifically created the character that was played by Meesha Shafi.
Nair, who seems so thoroughly in love with Lahore said she felt apologetic for not having been able to shoot the entire length of the movie in the city of Lahore itself. “I was so determined to shoot the entire 21 days in Lahore. But we could only do four. Unfortunately, it was not up to me. Nobody was ready to provide insurance. The good thing is Delhi and Lahore are sister cities as we were able to create an almost realistic impression of the city. Moreover, we did get a lot of our characters from Lahore and most of the creative work including the music was conceived in Lahore so it kind of worked well that way.”
“I was so conscious of this factor that I made sure we had paid attention to every little detail, from the very specific style of the Pakistani shalwar to the PPP posters,” she said, adding that “this was the kind of authenticity that I was aiming for”.
“In the end, it all worked out beautifully, partly because of Mira’s vision because it is inherently difficult to adapt a novel to a film and keep true to the text. And for me, what was more amazing was that our entire crew came from different parts of the world. To have been able to conjure up something this beautiful by bringing people, all of whom are theoretically different from each other, I think for me that was the political beauty of it,” Hamid said, talking about his feelings for the end product of Nair and her team’s endeavours.
For both the writer and the director of ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’, the success of this adaptation was to see “imagination come alive” and the movie’s success proves that it did. Nair was successfully able to create the imagination of the reader into a real world, with real visuals and characters.
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